I apologize for not checking in for a while. The pace has been heavy from early until late. I have not blogged because so much has happened. The reason I should have blogged is that so much has happened.
Of course you know by now we elected the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry (North Carolina) as our 27th Presiding Bishop. Such elections are done in a private session so I cannot say much to describe the event itself. In fact, another bishop was publicly admonished today for leaking the election results prematurely. But I will dare to say this much: the gathering was holy, prayerful, and Spirit-filled. There was no politicking. -- just praying and singing. We voted and waited for the result. The vote for Bishop Michael was overwhelming on the first ballot. He received 121 of the 174 votes cast and the other votes were pretty evenly divided. So it was an incredible mandate, a tremendous show of unity.
I had done a straw poll of the Nevada deputation to advise and guide me in my discernment of how to vote. The Nevadans were unanimous and emphatic in supporting Bishop Michael. His election was confirmed in the House of Deputies by a vote of 800 to 12.
I believe the Church, after years of division, has experienced a moment of unity. But it is not a unity achieved by middling in – by compromising between opposing positions but rather by transcending them in Christ. If you are not already familiar with Bishop Michael, you can get a taste of his spirituality from his brief remarks yesterday at the end of our march against gun violence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsfpLdMlaio&feature=share
One thing is bound to be on people’s minds when we elect our first Black Presiding Bishop: Did we elect him because he is Black. I would say that his race is a factor. Many of us felt that having a Black Presiding Bishop proclaims a gospel truth of inclusion. But the bottom line is that we did not elect Bishop Michael because of his race. We elected him because of his passion for the faith and his skills as a leader. We like the way he talks about Jesus. We want his message to be our message in the coming decade.
March Against Gun Violence.
60 Bishops organized and led a march against gun violence Sunday morning. We did it in response to the wave of mass shootings as well as the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in our nation. The basic reason for our action is this story by a Salt Lake City gunshot victim. If your time is limited, skip the rest of my blog and watch this. Never read anything I write again. Just watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgeu5I-Hiw0&feature=share
We did not march for a specific legislative response but for doing whatever it takes to stop the carnage. Most of the so-called controversy is bogus. There is not as much controversy as we might think. 92% of Americans favor universal background checks for gun purchases. 82% of gun owners favor universal background checks. 74% of NRA members favor universal background checks. The overwhelming majority of people are pretty rational about this. Most of us are capable of being fairly rational about this and much of rationality is clear. When Connecticut enacted strong handgun licensing, handgun homicides declined by 25%; when Missouri repealed such licensing, handgun violence increased by 40%. http://www.taleoftwostates.com But ultimately it isn’t about numbers. As Carolyn said of handgun deaths, “One more is too many.”
This is not a denial of anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights. The 2nd Amendment begins “A well regulated militia being necessary . . .” and goes on to preserve the right to bear arms for the sake of the militia. It is quite arguable that only members of a militia should be able to own guns. But no one wants to go that far. Just start with the words “well regulated.” This is not about seizing our guns but regulating use and ownership. We have the right to vote but we have to register. We have the right to marry but we have to get a license. The reasonable regulation of firearms for the public safety has been upheld as Constitutional over and over.
So what is really going on here? Why is it that in the aftermath of Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Amish school shooting, and Charleston, do we do not recoil in horror and throw our guns away but instead rush out to gun up? Why is it that the stronger the evidence is that gun violence is out of control and can be curtailed, the more we fight the action that would have saved Carolyn’s daughter?
The answer is simple and obvious. It comes in two parts. The first part is our motivation. It is simply fear – fear for our own safety and fear for the safety of those we love. Our passion for guns is obviously and simply an expression of fear. Irrational mass violence makes us even more afraid. It show us we are at risk and the people we love are at risk. Some of us are afraid of the government. Some are afraid of criminals. This is unscientific. I can’t prove this. But my empathy tells me that people are far more afraid today than they were 30 years ago. We are in the grip of fear.
The second part is where we place our faith. When we are afraid, what do we count on to make us safe? Our culture of violence has taught us, indoctrinated us, and programed us to trust in violence. Kill or be killed. So because we want to be safe, we maximize our capacity to kill. That makes others more afraid so they increase their capacity to kill and it snowballs. But there is another way.
In the time of the psalmist the equivalent of a semi-automatic handgun was a chariot drawn by a warhorse. It was the ultimate weapon of the time. So the psalmist wrote:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses;
But we trust in the Lord.
Psalm 27: 7
The psalmist and the prophets said there is another place to put our trust.
Surely it is God who saves me.
I will trust in him and not be afraid
For he is my stronghold and my sure defense
And he will be my savior.
Isaiah 12: 2
God is not pleased by our preferring weapons to Him for our protection. That is why God longs for us to shift our faith from weapons to Him:
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
And their speaks into pruning hooks.
Isaiah 2: 4
Our attachment to weapons is ultimately a matter of faith, which is the opposite of fear. The commandment Jesus gave his disciples far more often than any other was this: Do not be afraid. The Bible tells us 365 times, once for each day of the year: Do not be afraid. We can push rational regulation of guns till the cows come home, but we won’t make real inroads into our penchant for violence until we deliver our people from our Egyptian bondage, our Babylonian captivity to fear. That comes in one way and one way only – faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Same Gender Marriage
For the LGBTQ Community this was a banner day. Today the House of Bishops authorized several liturgies for trial use in solemnizing marriage between same gender couples. We prayerfully hope for concurrence by the House of Deputies to make this Church law.
There were a lot of complexities to work through, and we worked through them with painstaking care, but the gist of it was simple: the liturgies were authorized for trial use subject to the consent of the bishop in each diocese; and any bishop who does not consent is required to make provision to insure that people in that diocese have access to the rites. Contrary to what has been said, how the bishop goes about that is not specified. But he or she has to do it. The legislation specifies that no one is to be penalized for dissenting from this action.
But what I want to describe is the spirit in which we took this action. The Task Force on Marriage showed “a generosity of spirit” (a term we are hearing a lot a this convention around all sorts of dicey subjects like sex and money) in leaving room for dissent. The conservative bishops who announced they would be voting against the resolutions as a matter of conscience expressed heartfelt appreciation to the Task Force for its consideration. Conservative bishops who had reservations about canonical processes voted for the legislation because they valued Jesus’ love of the LGBTQ people above any idolatry of rigid legalism. I literally wept more than once at the humility and wisdom of my fellow bishops in addressing this moral moment in our history.
The same gender marriage legislation, after being thoroughly revised, refined, debated, and perfected passed by an overwhelmingly strong majority. Those who knew they would be in the minority called for a roll call vote. I usually resent those a bit because they are slow and tedious. But I wound up being grateful for this one. Several bishops that I thought of as fairly progressive voted no; but more bishops who I thought of as rock-ribbed conservatives, some from the Deep South, voted yes. One explained that he intended to vote no, but God had moved him in the course of worship to vote yes.
I have no doubt whatsoever that some ultra-conservatives will say we have abandoned the faith. (The protesters outside say as much.) I have no doubt that some ultra-liberals will accuse us of selling out to the conservatives. But I am 100% on board with the strong majority vote today – not because it was such a unified consensus but because it was Christian. Our wise niece recently observed that these days “The Middle Way is the road less travelled.” But it is our way, the Anglican Way. Today I am deeply pleased with our Church.
PS They took up a collection Sunday and put it on the altar. We have a resolution out of Stewardship and Development to make sure this continues in the future. Also we are scrambling to restore funding for The Episcopal Network or Stewardship.